Illinois, Massac County
river mile 928
The river bottoms along the Ohio make an odd figure on the map. Here is a town on the riverfront; there a town some miles away on the riverfront. There is a great sweep of the river in a long wide curve between them. Yet the narrow two-lane road that connects them doesn’t run along the riverbank. Instead, it traces a narrow line far inland. Why? We can tell why by the shape of the lakes and the sloughs and the islands that parallel the course of the river, next to and in it. They are long and narrow, long an narrow often in a ratio of 10 long to 1 narrow. These lakes and sloughs and islands, and the long narrow low ridges among them mark the changing flow of the Ohio’s waters over seasons and centuries and millennia. No towns here, no. Now it is unending acres of corn or soybeans. The river moves in in late winter and fills the land with water. In the corn fields, some corn six feet high, some sprouts of six inches, due to how long they were inundated. Odd shapes, indeed.
But here the peoples who occupied this land from about 1000 CE to about 1400 found a higher place amongst the fertile soil annually renewed by the Ohio, and here they built one of the centers of their civilization. The mounds they created that were their most public and sacred gathering places remain here for us to see today, and to marvel at their power. And to learn more. Archaeologists in the 1930s and 1940s established the principles of modern archaeology here.
Not farming, it is not often that one has a reason to travel on these bottomlands and understand their mysteries. Thank you to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who has made this a signed and marked Historic Site.
The site is four miles off the main road along the Ohio. Bicyclists might enjoy riding there to appreciate the site and its interpretation. Paddlers would have to be on a slough far distant from the main stem of the Ohio. The only facility is a very small gravel parking lot, so there is no place to camp and no amenities. But it is an excellent afternoon’s trip.
Next park: Fort Massac
Field research June 2018